Hossein Derakhshan spent 6 years in jail in Iran because of his blog. Now, with the clarity of seeing years of changes to the web and social networks all at once after his release, he’s written an important essay on the value of hyperlinks and the open web:
"When a powerful website – say Google or Facebook – gazes at, or links to, another webpage, it doesn’t just connect it , it brings it into existence; gives it life. Without this empowering gaze, your web page doesn’t breathe. No matter how many links you have placed in a webpage, unless somebody is looking at it, it is actually both dead and blind, and therefore incapable of transferring power to any outside web page."
He mentions apps like Instagram, which have no way to link to the outside world. Too many apps are exactly like this: more interested in capturing eyeballs for ads than opening up their platform. The default for native mobile apps is to become silos, while the default for web sites is to be open and support linking.
There’s a second part to Hossein’s essay that I don’t agree with, though. He writes that “the stream” – a.k.a the timeline, a reverse-chronological list of short posts or links – is turning the web into television. But I think there’s a lot we can learn from the timeline. It’s a valuable user experience metaphor that we should take back from Twitter and social networks.
Building on the timeline is basically the whole point of my microblogging project. We should encourage independent microblogs by using a timeline interface to make them more useful. (Interested? Sign up on my announce list.)
Back to links. Dave Winer, who has been cross-posting recently to Facebook and Medium, posted about how Facebook doesn’t allow inline links in the text of a post. As a new generation grows up on these kind of posts instead of real blog posts, will people understand what they’re missing? Dave writes:
"I hope we don't end up having to try to explain linking to future generations who have no recollection of an electronic writing environment where words could take you to a whole other place. But I suspect we're going there. Unless somehow we can get Facebook to relent and make it easy to link from words in Facebook posts to other places on the web."
This is a great challenge for 2016. Not specifically with Facebook, but with the larger idea of bringing back the web we lost, retrofitted for today’s app-centric internet. I hope to spend a good part of the year working on it.